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Croatian Media in Transition

Zoran DaskaloviŠ

Media and journalistic freedoms in Croatia in the nineties were a stumbling block for a long time in the relations of Croatia with the world and different international institutions and organizations, especially the ones which carefully watched whether the media were breathing freely or at a pace dictated by the regime and powerful groups in it. In the beginning of the nineties, after the first multiparty elections, all the media were state-owned, enabling the Croat Democratic Community which won in these first elections, but also in all the other elections in the nineties of the last century, to have a decisive influence on their editorial policy, but also on their everyday content.

The beginning of the war in Croatia coincided with the beginning of privatization of state enterprises and some media inclusive. The then ruling Tudjman's regime, however, allowed privatization of only few media in the first half of the nineties, because it wished to keep most of them state-owned, and therefore, under its dominating political influence. It did not allow privatization of any electronic media, but just allowed broadcasting of certain private local and regional television or radio stations, but again the ones which were owned by persons close to the ruling regime. On national level, it kept the monopoly over three channels of state radio and the same number of television channels. In such circumstances, just a few local and regional radio stations managed to keep a somewhat independent editorial policy (the best known and the most influential among them is Zagreb Radio 101, nowadays most of which is owned by small share-holders, mostly journalists and employees of the radio stations).

Out of five most influential daily newspapers inherited from the time of socialism (Vjesnik, Vecernji list, Slobodna Dalmacija, Novi list/Glas Istre i Glas Slavonije) privatization of Novi list/Glas Istre and Slobodna Dalmacija was permitted at first. Novi list from Rijeka, which at the time also owned and published Glas Istre, was privatized according to the federal law of the time, the so-called Ante Markovic's law, and small share-holders became its majority owners - mostly journalists and other employees in this media.

After privatization of the whole company, Glas Istre became independent and nowadays operates as an independent daily newspaper owned by small share-holders with a seat in Pula, but it still has business connections with Novi list from Rijeka, and it is still printed in the latter's printing works. Both Novi list and Glas Istre have mostly managed to preserve an independent and oppositionist editorial policy, which has ensured them a stable circulation and successful business operation in the whole past period.

With favourable credits from MDLF, Novi list has managed to modernize its printing works and stabilize its business operation, and in the past few years even became a co-owner of three other regional dailies (Zadarski list, Karlovacki list and since recently Glas Slavonije), and it is competing in the ongoing privatization of Slobodna Dalmacija which in the beginning of 2000 ended up state-owned again, because its privatization from the first half of the nineties was nullified by court decisions. By flouting the privatization law, that is when Tudjman's regime sold (or rather gave away as a gift) Slobodna Dalmacija to its favourite tycoon Miroslav Kutle, who robbed this Split media company by pulling out its capital, so it technically and technologically starting considerably lagging behind on Croatian media market. After its major part was returned to state ownership, towards the end of its term in office, Racan's coalition government published a competition for the sale of majority of its shares, but did not manage to carry out the job to the end, but left it to Sanader's government, formed by HDZ after its latest election victory. Daily Vjesnik is still state-owned, and the Croatian daily with the highest circulation was sold in the beginning of 2000 to Austrian Styria a which is its majority owner.

After shutting down of weekly Danas under pressure of Tudjman's regime, weekly Globus and Feral Tribune were founded in the beginning of the nineties. The latter was founded by a group of journalists of Slobodna Dalmacija, after they had left their former media when Miroslav Kutle became its new owner. While Globus was from the beginning a commercial edition which often flirted with the ruling politics, from its very beginning Feral Tribune adopted a policy critical of the authorities and Tudjman's regime, but also the then predominant public opinion. That is why it was often attacked by the regime which started to destroy it materially and financially. Although in its ten years Feral had a considerable circulation for Croatian circumstances (between 35 and 40 thousand sold copies) it would have ceased to exist a long time ago without foreign donations.

That is why ever since its foundation in 1993 until the end of last year Feral was regularly sponsored by various media foundations, most of all by Soros Open Society, Dutch Press Now, USAID, Swedish Helsinki Committee, and others. In the past few years, again until the end of last year, it survived thanks to MDLF which has become its co-owner, but in the beginning of this year withdrew and stopped financing publication of Feral whose circulation has declined by half in the meantime, and a large number of its journalists from the nineties left it and joined other media. Therefore, it is a question whether the best known Croatian weekly from the nineties will manage to survive in the media market on its own, or it will experience the destiny of weekly Arkzin published by Antiwar Campaign of the Republic of Croatia, and that of Osijek Bumerang, both published in the nineties also thanks to donated resources from abroad, but their publication was interrupted after the inflow of this money stopped, and they did not manage with their circulation to survive the competition of other Croatian media in the market.

But since in the meantime, the biggest Croatian media company which has twenty one different publicatons, Europapress Holding, has sprung up around Globus, the weekly with the highest circulation, it was not realistic to expect that small independent publishers would manage to stay in the race with EPH and other more successful media companies despite donations from abroad. Along with Globus, EPH published two dailies (Jutarnji list and Dnevnik), numerous reviews and speacilized editions (Glorija, Arena, Mila, Auto-klub, Playboy, Moja tajna, and others), which makes it an absolute favourite in the competition on Croatian media market, especially after German WAZ became its part-owner. Another weekly, Nacional, with the second highest circulation, which was started by a group of journalists who had abandoned Globus with the wish to create a newspaper critical of Tudjman's regime, also has problems lately. Its circulation is also declining, and it was abandoned by a large number of journalists and a part of its founders as well, although Nacional was commecially more successful than Feral and Arkzin, and even managed to start a number of other publications in order to improve its business operation, especially after unsuccessful foundation of daily Republika which was a financial fiasco.

In the second half of the nineties, weekly Tjednik was also founded in Zagreb, mostly with the donated money of Soros Open Society and with the ambition to develop into a respectable news magazine, but lasted just slightly longer than a similar predecessor Pecat which was founded by a group of former journalists of Danas a couple of years before that with the help of Soros' donations. That is how of all the media founded or published in the nineties with the help of foreign donations, only Novi list and Feral survived on the media scene of Croatia, and the latter is having difficulties in making ends meet. All the others were shut down in the meantime, because they they did not manage to survive the race with other Croatian media, especially the ones privately owned commercially profiled and in the meantime partly entered by foreign media.